The Anatomy of Typography

Typographic anatomy is one of the things you must absolutely know, you can’t master type if you don’t know where to look. It is very important to know how each letterform is built, the subtle details and nuanced differences and how each little detail influences the overall design.

This knowledge is valuable for both designers and non-designers, knowing how to communicate is very crucial in today’s world, you can’t articulate yourself if you don’t know which terms to use.

Below are some of the most important terms you should know.



Cape line: The invisible line marking the height of uppercase letters.

Mean line: Imaginary line running along the top of non-ascending, lowercase letters.

Base line: The invisible line where all characters sit.

Beard line: The invisible line to which the lowest descenders descend.

X-height: The height of lowercase letters reach based on height of lowercase x.

Cap height: The height of a capital letter measured from the baseline.

Apex/Vertex: the top and bottom points where two strokes meet

Ascender: The upward vertical stroke found on the part of lowercase letters that extends above the typeface’s x-height.

Descender: The part of the letters that extends below the baseline.

Counter: The open space in a fully or partly closed area within a letter.

Stroke: A straight or curved diagonal line.

Stem: Vertical, full-length stroke in upright characters.

Shoulder: The curved stroke aiming downward from a stem.

Bowl: The fully closed, rounded part of a letter.

Ball terminal: Terminal that is circular in shape.

Terminal: The end of a stroke that does not include a serif.

Arm: A horizontal stroke that does not connect to a stem on one or both ends.

Crossbar: The horizontal stroke in letters. Also known as Bar.

Cross stroke: A line that extends across the stem of a letter.

Joint: The point where a stroke connects to a stem.

Leg: The lower, down sloping stroke of the K and k is called a leg. The same stroke on R as well as the tail of a Q is sometimes also called a leg.

Ear: A small stroke projecting from the upper right bowl of the lowercase g.

Link: A stroke that connects the top and bottom bowls of lowercase double-story g’s.

Loop: The enclosed or partially enclosed counter below the baseline of a double-story g.

Ligature: Two or more letters combined into one character make a ligature.

Serif: Small decorative line added as embellishment to the basic form of a character.

Spine: The main curved stroke of the letter ‘s’.

Spur: A small projection off a main stroke.

Aperture: The opening of a letter, usually leading to a counter.


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